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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Corps closes Lesotho site

Due to the dangers resulting from a military coup in the African country of Lesotho on Saturday, Aug. 30, two Grinnell Corps Fellows working at St. Rodrigue High School in Lesotho, Colleen Osborne ’13 and Clare Gunshenan ’14, were evacuated from the country and are now back in the United States.

Grinnell Corps is a program modeled after the Peace Corps that allows recent Grinnell alumni to complete a one-year volunteer fellowship in different parts of the world. According to the Grinnell Corps website, the College created the program “as part of its historic commitment to social justice and responsibility, and in an attempt to match the talents and idealism of [its] students with the needs of our local and global communities.”

Fellows in the program can spend their year in New Orleans, Thailand, Namibia or Grinnell. After the recent troubles in Lesotho, Grinnell cut ties with that program, which has partnered with Grinnell Corps since 1999.

When the coup first occurred and those who oversee the Grinnell Corps program heard of the issue, Gunshenan and Osborne were temporarily in South Africa. Returning to Lesotho was dangerous but the two only had a one-week visa to remain in South Africa, so remaining there was not an option.

“After arguing for a visa extension with multiple embassies, and being told that under no circumstances could the fellows remain in South Africa past Wednesday, Sept. 3, and hearing of increasing political unrest in Lesotho, we flew them to a nearby city where their specific visas would allow them to stay up to 90 days: Windhoek, Namibia,” wrote Saunia Powell, Assistant Director of Post-Graduate Service, in an email to The S&B.

The original plan was for the two alumni to stay in Namibia while awaiting further information on the issues in Lesotho. But on that day, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Lesotho, so the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) began making arrangements for Gunshenan and Osborne’s return to the United States.

Each May, Grinnell Corps fellows who will depart in the following months for their destination are trained in a weeklong session prior to their departure, covering the issue of safety during that time. Additionally, they keep in communication with Powell during their service.

“Risks exist in many different parts of the world and these realities are discussed with students who are considering post-graduate service as a first destination after Grinnell,” wrote Mark Peltz, Dean for Career Development, in an email to The S&B.

This is the first time a travel warning from the U.S. State Department has been issued in a Grinnell Corps country due to political unrest since 2003, when a travel warning was issued in Nepal.

“At that time, our fellows were evacuated, brought back to the U.S. and the program ended,” Powell wrote.

Grinnell will no longer send fellows to Lesotho, but according to Peltz, that decision was already in the works. Starting in 2012, fellows were asked to informally counsel their students on HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health issues, which the CLS felt was far beyond the typical requirements for the fellowship.

“Over the past two years we’ve learned that such high stakes work requires skills beyond what recent college graduates could reasonably provide,” Peltz wrote. “Regardless of the military coup, there were notable challenges with this particular Grinnell Corps site.”

At this point, it is unknown when and if Grinnell will identify another Grinnell Corps location, but it will not be during this academic year.

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